International Institute for
Indigenous Resource Management

Taking Control: Opportunities for and Impediments to the Use of Socio-Cultural Controls for Long-Term Stewardship of U.S. Department of Energy Legacy Waste Sites

  November 22-23, 2004
Executive Tower Hotel
1405 Curtis Street
Denver, CO 80202

Appendix G: The Role of Song and Story in Long-Term Stewardship

For many indigenous people, songs and stories include many different forms of oral and written literature such as proverbs, folktales, historical fiction, legends, chants, poems, parables, and prayers. Songs and stories are composed to celebrate, honor, teach, warn, enjoin, and enjoy. But the centrality of songs and stories is not only a characteristic of indigenous peoples. The works of European composers such as Bach, Beethoven, and Mozart are also celebratory and precatory and serve as mnemonic devices to remember the history of great men and great events. The songs of folk singers like Woody Guthrie, Pete Seegar, and Cisco Houston serve similar purposes. In addition, the works of these singers and their compatriots, like those of native peoples, serve to inspire social consciousness and justice among the people.

The power of song and story in long-term stewardship is that songs and stories have their their own power to inspire, uplift, challenge, and stimulate our lives. They can encapsulate values, attitudes, cosmology, and worldview of the people who create them. They are the manifestation of all the elements of our cultural, religious and philosophical beliefs and can accordingly, help guide us as we struggle to meet our obligations to future generations.

These songs and stories from the Southwest United States and from the Island of Moloka'i in Hawai'i are illustrative of the kind of socio-cultural controls that should be made part of a broad-based, long-term stewardship defense-in-depth.

A Southern Paiute Song
(Video courtesy of Mike Livingston).

The Salt Songs tell about the different sacred sites on the thousand-mile journey beginning at the Bill Williams River, and visiting all the sacred sites within the circle from Chemehuevi Valley, Mojave Valley, Hualapai Valley, Utah, Nevada, and California, and different sacred sites. They explain the whole history of our people and the connections we have with the elements. The songs talk about the upper world, they tell of other people, of the land, of the water.

This song, while not one of the Salt Songs, was composed and sung by Matthew Leivas, Sr., one of the founders of the Salt Songs Project. It tells of the mistreatment of the land.

An Oli from the Island of Moloka'i
(Video courtesy of Mike Livingston).


Kuleana: The Ho'ulu Hou Project: Stories Told By Us
(Courtesy of William K. Wallace, III).

These are a few pages from Kuleana, one of a series of publications produced entirely by the members of various organizations within the Ko'olauloa community in both the Hawaiian language and the English language with the assistance of Na Kamalei K.E.E.P. (Ko'olauloa Early Education Program The book is an example of the kind of socio-cultural controls that serve to not only nurture community and family culture and values, but also serve the aims of long-term stewardship..